Ladies Who Lunch

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Last year I had the awesome opportunity to cater a lunch for the lovely ladies of The Women’s Club from my Mom's condo community.  They are a fantastic group of vital women who meet for various occasions. They have a book club. They go to the theatre, take field trips and just enjoy one another’s company.  They regularly host parties and luncheons, and that's where I came in.  My Mom is in charge of organizing one summer luncheon each year.  After hearing about the one she organized last year, I asked if she wanted me to help her cater the upcoming one. My Mom is an amazing woman who is always willing to help others and give of herself. So, naturally I wanted to do something special for her and for her friends.  This particular luncheon is usually a casual one serving up typical summer fare, like sandwiches and potato salad and such. My goal was to up the ante a bit, and so I embarked in creating a menu that they might enjoy.  I sat down with my Mom and her friend, Elena, who helps her with this event.  As luck would have it I was just coming back from working a catering event in the Hamptons and had some leftovers with me.  Call it fate, kismet or just plain damn good luck that I had this nibbles for them to try. It was almost like a wedding tasting. As I pulled out dish after dish for them to taste test, we took notes, jotted down what they liked, what I could slightly change and what I could add, all taking into account the likes of their group.  It was great to have both my Mom and Elena providing valuable feedback so we could tailor the luncheon to offer up some delicious dishes. And so the menu was set, and the plan hatched. 

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Main
Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tarts
Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano with Lemon Vinaigrette
Egg Salad
Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples & Walnuts served with Romaine boats
Turkey Breast & Swiss Cheese Roll Ups
Asian Slaw with Peanut-Tahini Dressing
Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Zucchini & Roasted Tomato with a Roasted Garlic Dressing
Cucumber Salad
French Baguettes

Desserts
Peach Cobbler with Whipped Cream
Lime Zest/Raspberry Filled Cookies
Mini Cheesecakes
Watermelon

Normally they use throw away plastic tablecloths and paper dishes. It was a hard sell at first, but I convinced my Mom that using cloth tablecloths and real dishes would make it feel special. As you all know, I HAVE tablecloths. Enough, in fact, to cover the buffet table and all the seated tables.

The luncheon was held in the condo’s clubhouse, which meant we had to set the room up with tables and chairs for 30 guests. They showed me their usual set up, but in traditional Dana fashion I rejiggered the entire space. Thankfully, I had the help of my Mom, Elena and Olivia.  Especially since I decided that we would seriously need to move most of the furniture around. They were very willing and accommodating to my suggestions. Moving the seating area that was directly in front of the fireplace gave way for a perfect place to set up the main buffet table, front and center. It was August, so no need to have access to that. With this new placement, we were able to better utilize the entire space and the built-in counters next to the fireplace. Which is where I placed the plates, napkins and utensils for a better flow.

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I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

When setting up a buffet table, think about the flow. Think about how people will reach for the food items and make sure you place them accordingly. Set higher items in the back, and group foods together. Bread near the items like the Egg Salad and Chicken Salad, condiments close to the cold cuts, for example.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

Make sure you have utensils for each dish and have any condiments close by.

Asian Slaw   gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Asian Slaw gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Make your platters look pretty. Arrange the food so your guests feel that you took time and care in preparing the meal. It makes them feel special, as they should.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts     is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Israeli Couscous  , it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Israeli Couscous, it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Lime Zest Cookies   with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Lime Zest Cookies with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Mini   Cheese Cakes  . Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

Mini Cheese Cakes. Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

We used my Soothing Blues theme but gave the tables a vibrant color pop with small centerpieces using Ribbon flowers accented with white hydrangeas cut from my garden.  Simple but striking. The best part was showing Elena, who was reluctant in arranging the flowers, just how easy it is to create a floral arrangement with impact. Hesitant at first, her confidence grew once I showed her color blocking and explained that simpler is better. And with that she finished the rest beautifully. The key; do what looks good to your eye and it will look good to others.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

It was so lovely to be welcomed into their group and serve them food that they enjoyed.  Everyone seemed to have a good time and loved the food offerings.   

Ladies on the buffet line
Ladies waiting for the buffet
Chatting after a little dessert.

Chatting after a little dessert.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

There is a simple joy in sharing food. In creating an atmosphere where people feel loved by your efforts.  Remember, no matter what we do in life, whether it be the words we speak, or the food we make, the flowers we arrange, or the door we hold open, when done from a place of purity then the world is stirred with love. Thank you to my Mom, Elena and Olivia, and to Rhona and the entire Women's Club for welcoming me to your luncheon last year.  Here’s to all of you, hoping you enjoy these memories and share many more happy adventures and good eating together!

And for the rest of my readers, I hope this brings about inspiration on how and what to serve for Ladies’ Summer Lunch. Ok, Men are welcome, too! In fact, all are welcome. Stir it with LOVE!

If you are interested in my Private Chef services, please contact me directly: dana@2fishinc.com And please feel free to pass along my info. Thank YOU!

A Pork Full Sandwich & More

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You may remember way, way back I wrote about our travels to Chile and the biggest, sloppiest, oddest pork sandwich we encountered, Germany in Chile - A Super(bowl) Pork Sandwich. Thanks to the advice of the dearly missed, uber-talent of Anthony Bourdain, JuanCarlos and I visited one of his restaurant recommendations. The draw to the unusual German spot was a pork sandwich called the ‘lomito’; for what Tony described as a ‘towering monument all its own’ and delicious. And it was. (To watch the episode, and you should, visit Anthony Bourdain No Reservations. I miss him and his thoughtful insights into cultures around the world. A moment of pause for his passing.)

The sandwich was not just good because we were tired, starving and practically had lost hope on finding a place to eat. It was good because it was filled with individually good foods that seemingly didn’t go together, but somehow worked.

I promised way back then that I would try to recreate it. It may have taken awhile, but JC and I finally did. Mind you, this was not exactly that sandwich but it was our homage to the lomito. Nothing truly can ever be the original experience. But according to our guests, ours was delicious.

First you have to make the pork. Or you can buy cooked pork from a specialty market. You can go two different avenues - the pulled pork kind or roast pork slices. Here is what we did with JuanCarlos leading the charge on the pork as I captured his messy hands along the way. If you make your own pork, bare in mind that you have to start a day (or 2 depending on what time you need to serve it) ahead of time because once the pork is marinated it needs rest in the fridge for several hours or overnight, plus the cook time of an additional 7 hours. So, this is not one of those “let’s make pork” tonight recipes.

The spice rub line up.

The spice rub line up.

The pork shoulder. Definitely a piece of meat you can lean on.

The pork shoulder. Definitely a piece of meat you can lean on.

Ingredients

We used Ree Drummond Pork Recipe as a guide, but added a few of our own ingredients. Below were the amounts we used. Follow the linked recipe for cooking. JC made two modifications. He didn’t refrigerate overnight, and he cooked the pork for only 6 hours. This gave us pork slices instead of shreds but I would be careful doing it this way as it is easy to run the risk of the pork not being tender. If you are experienced with cooking pork shoulder, go ahead. If not, I would recommend cooking it according to the Ree’s recipe to get the pull of the pork. Also, we did not use BBQ sauce. We only used the luscious juices that it produced along with the onions.

For the Pork Roast

1 Pork Shoulder roast
1 t Cayenne
1 T Chili Pepper
1 t Cumin
2 T Anise Seeds
1 T Paprika
Bay Leaves
1/3 c Garlic
1/2 c Sugar in the Raw
1 heaping T salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
4 onions, cut into halves

 

For the Sandwich Fixings

Spicy Slaw
Guacamole (store bought)
Mayo or Yogurt Lemon Sauce
Sautéed Peppers & Onions
Buns

We used fresh garlic.

We used fresh garlic.

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After you have all the ingredients mixed together, lovingly rub the mixture ALL over (front and back) the pork. Then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Rub-a-dub-dub, Rub it with love.

Rub-a-dub-dub, Rub it with love.

Then place the pork in a large roasting pan on a bed of the onion halves and cook in a 300 degrees F. Roast until fork-tender and falling apart, about 7 hours. Remove the pork from the pot and set it on a cutting board. Slice some of the onion.

While you are waiting for the pork to cook, move on to making all the fillings. I decided that instead of the limp string beans, I would make a slaw. I used my Spicy Crunch Slaw recipe which I knew both the crunch and spice would work well with the pork. I bought guacamole because frankly I had way too many other things to make, and a good store bought one can be delicious. I made caramelized peppers and onions, and created my own type of ‘mayo’. I used half mayo, half greek yogurt with lemon juice to thin it a bit, salt and pepper, but you can use mayo if that’s your groove. Once I gathered all the ingredients, all that was left to do was to pile them onto a soft bun.

Everyone was ready and waiting to be piled on.

Everyone was ready and waiting to be piled on.

Guac first

Guac first

Start piling on the flavors. I think the slaw works nicely with the guacamole.

Start piling on the flavors. I think the slaw works nicely with the guacamole.

Pork and onions.

Pork and onions.

Creamy and tangy mixture of mayo, yogurt, salt and pepper.

Creamy and tangy mixture of mayo, yogurt, salt and pepper.

Sautéed peppers & onions.Simply slice them thin and slowly sauté them in oil and butter until they are soft and caramelized. Salt/pepper, too.

Sautéed peppers & onions.Simply slice them thin and slowly sauté them in oil and butter until they are soft and caramelized. Salt/pepper, too.

A platter full of pork with luscious juices and soft, flavorful onions.

A platter full of pork with luscious juices and soft, flavorful onions.

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Funny enough, my original blog post suggested that this was a Super(bowl) of a sandwich and I posted right before SuperBowl Sunday thinking you might serve it for the big game. And now, I am posting my recreation again right before the SuperBowl. So, now you can serve up this ‘towering monument’ of pork to your cheering fans. You may also want to include a charcuterie/cheese platter, as I did. A few other ideas for game day; maybe make my 3 Dips or my Tapenesto. Great choices for a crowd. No matter what you serve, you are a winner in my book.

 

Spicy Crunch Slaw

Slaw is perfect for a crowd and perfect for pairing with a variety of proteins, especially ones prepared on the grilled. One of the reasons it's ideal for a large amount of people;  Cabbage. Since it is the base for slaw, the sheer density of this cruciferous veg creates a huge volume.  Next best thing, if you not making it for a crowd, is it's ideal to chop it all up once over the weekend and have extra batches all week long as side dish for lunches or dinners.  The reason I stated 3+ ways is that for years now, I have been making various versions of this spicy crunch slaw depending on what is fresh and crisp at the store and which dressing I stir up that day. The important factor to this slaw is finding items with great crunch factor, and then pairing it with the dressing you like or best goes with your meal.

Since JC and I avoid mayo due to our egg allergy, my dressing eliminates the creamy mayo and replaces it with a tangy, spicy one.  Which I believe provides the perfect, sharp complement to a ton of main courses, ie: pulled pork sandwiches, plain ole pork, burgers, seared tuna, grilled chicken, roasted or sautéd fish. Shall I go on...

Let the chopping begin!

This version's line up of crunchy crunch veggies. Each trying to out crunch the next.

This version's line up of crunchy crunch veggies. Each trying to out crunch the next.

INGREDIENTS

(This makes a huge amount that will easily feed at least 12+.  What I do if I have less people is I only dress the amount I need and keep the rest of the chopped veggies in an airtight plastic container or bag.  It stays fresh for a while and then you can dress close to the time of serving. I suggest at least 1/2 hr prior to allow it to really soak in. One important note if you are saving it for during the week; leave the cucumber out and cut that right before serving. It's the only vegetable that will get watery and soaky if you let it sit. )
 

8 c Napa cabbage, shredded
6 c Purple cabbage
1/2 jicama, cut into strips
1 English cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, sliced on diagonal
1 c celery, thinly sliced
1 c fennel, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced, also on the diagonal
1 c red onion, thinly sliced
Mint or cilantro, whichever you prefer
(Also, please remember that it's just slaw, so amounts are arbitrary.  If you want more celery, add it.  If you only have 3 scallions, so be it.  Seriously, don't stress over the amounts.  I have never measured anything, but have here to give some guidelines.)

Slices of celery, thin enough to mingle but thick enough to provide crunch.

Slices of celery, thin enough to mingle but thick enough to provide crunch.

Jicama. Love this root vegetable. Its flavor is the cross between an apple and a pear. You have to peel the rough brown outer layer, then cut into slices

Jicama. Love this root vegetable. Its flavor is the cross between an apple and a pear. You have to peel the rough brown outer layer, then cut into slices

Jicama cut into strips

Jicama cut into strips

Raw red onion provides a bit of a spicy bite.

Raw red onion provides a bit of a spicy bite.

DRESSING

1 c red wine vinegar
1/2 c rice wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 line
1/2 large jalapeño, finely chopped
1 t Thai chili paste
Olive oil
salt, pepper

Whisk together.  Add more chili paste or jalapeño if you want more heat. (If you still want to have the creamy factor see dressing options below.)

 

Dressing Options
                  
Thai Style Dressing
1/4 c Canola or Peanut Oil (if you only have olive oil, use that)      
2/3 c chunky peanut butter  
1/3 c Tahini
1 T Thai chili paste
Cilantro, chopped
juice of a lime
1/3 c rice wine vinegar
salt, pepper

Creamy Version: 
Use the base dressing recipe above using less oil then add mayo or a smashed avocado to it.

 
 

Ingredient Options

Fresh raw corn, cut off the cob  
Red, Yellow, Orange peppers
Snow peas                       
Snap peas
Radishes   
Arugula
Peanuts  
Cashews  

Slaw with mayo dressing version

Slaw with mayo dressing version

Instructions

Chop, slice, cut the vegetables in thin slices.  I usually use a mandolin because it's fast and easy giving you consistent cuts. But a knife does the trick too.  Another important note when slicing and chopping is to make the pieces similar.  Harder crunchier veg should be thinner than ones that are not, ie: cucumber can be a thicker cut.

Toss all the cut ingredients with the dressing of our choice and set in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour before serving. It's better when the dressing breaks down the rawness of the veggies ever so slightly and allows the salad to absorb that spice.

As I mentioned above, the crunch factor is what you are looking for here.  With the dozens of times I have prepared this salad,  I have altered it according to what is fresh or in season switching out the dressings too. Below are several ingredients that I have used in the past that crunch nicely with, or can replace some of the ingredients above plus two other dressing options. I do recommend that you keep the cabbage as one of the mainstays in this salad.  As you can see, the possibilities for creating a crunchy slaw are entirely up to you.  It can be different every time and still be full of spicy flavor. Hey, if you don't like spice, just leave it out.

Here's a version I recently made using cabbage, celery, fennel, cucumber, red onion, scallion with the Thai style dressing topping it with chopped peanuts and extra cilantro

This salad gets better the next day, and because it's so crunchy it last several days.  However, be forewarned, you might not have leftovers!  So whichever ingredient mix you choose, Crunch away!